Is Panama The Right Place For You?
For over 15 years I have been advising and assisting expats in their first steps in their new home country, and I have also lived and worked in many countries myself. I know from personal experience how it feels to start from scratch, to live as a newcomer in a foreign country, and to know neither the culture nor the language of the new host country.
It is perhaps an unpleasant truth, but unfortunately a fact: not everyone finds in Panama what they might have hoped to find. If you are looking for a country to move, then in my opinion it is not about finding the "perfect" paradise, but to choose a country that meets your personal wishes and needs. How these are shaped and what is important to you (or not) is a very individual decision, which, in addition to facts, is always a certain decision of the heart.
Therefore, I have summarized five points for you that you absolutely must know about Panama. If you find it difficult to accept these cultural differences and adapt in certain ways, Panama may not be the right place for you.
Patience, patience, patience: The clocks tick differently in Panama. Time is a relative concept: "mañana" does not always mean "tomorrow" but maybe "two weeks", "ahorita" is anything but "right now", and it is quite common to arrive at private meetings much later than agreed. Unpunctuality (except at work and when dealing with authorities) is not a discourtesy in Panama. Bureaucracy and a different attitude to work mean that many processes, procedures and work steps are handled much more leisurely and slowly than we are perhaps used to in the USA or Canada. Irascible and brash behavior is often completely pointless. However, a smile and a certain degree of composure and flexibility can open many doors in Panama.
“Juegavivo”: A common expression in the Panamanian culture describing a person who charmingly and with a twinkle in his eye likes to cheat a little, swindle or twist the truth in order to benefit from it. As a foreigner it is often difficult to distinguish cultural differences from "juegavivo". Therefore, always inform yourself in advance, especially in business and financial matters. You will find many insider tips and advice in my legal blogs, or simply book an appointment for a (virtual) free initial consultation.
“Puente del mundo, corazón del universo” (Bridge of the world, heart of the universe): This is how Panamanians describe their beloved Isthmus and this national pride runs through all areas of life. In November Panama celebrates various national holidays, for this reason the whole country more or less stands still during this month. If you are planning a trip to Panama for business, it is better not to do it in November, and if you do, expect additional delays and allow more time than usual.
"Clothes make the man": Clothes and appearance are important in Panama. Even ordinary people are careful to appear neat, clean and well-groomed at all times. Permissive, dirty clothing or vulgar behavior is not always appreciated. Foreigners who dress appropriately usually gain respect. Shorts (despite the temperatures) are usually worn only in private, at the beach or pool. Insider Tip: When attending appointments with public officials or at a bank, always make sure to dress appropriately: no flip-flops, sandals or Crocs, no shorts or miniskirts, no sleeveless T-shirts, loose-fitting shirts or spaghetti strap tops (or dresses). However, it doesn't have to be a shirt and tie. A simple short-sleeved t-shirt, jeans and sneakers are perfectly fine. Don't forget to wear a faceshield as well as a mouth-nose protection (mask) during appointments at the immigration office.
“Piropos” or flattery: As a (single traveling) woman (but also as a man) you often get more attention in Panama than you are used to. Many men (and women) in Panama are often very direct when it comes to attracting the attention of the opposite sex or making first contact. If you don't want this, you can simply ignore unwanted remarks or reject them in a friendly but firm manner.
Panama is unique.
Using the slogan of the Panamanian Tourism Authority, “Panama is for travelers, not tourists." Whether you are looking for a destination to move, want to have a "Plan B" on hand, are interested in investing abroad, or want to spend your retirement in the sunny south. There are many reasons that speak for Panama and inspire expats for this small country. Whether as a traveler, investor or expatriate, the country enchants its visitors with mountains and beaches and offers the unique opportunity to wake up in the Caribbean and have dinner at the Pacific Ocean. In addition, Panama is an insider's tip for investing in real estate overseas.
Panama is above all one thing: authentic, open and warm.
Let yourself be carried away by the joy of life, openness and friendliness of the locals. It is easy to see why Panama is considered one of the happiest nations in the world. Panamanians like to strike up a conversation with others, be it in the supermarket, at passport control at the airport or in a café. Just try it out, even if you speak little or no Spanish your counterpart will always be eager to help you and make small talk.
This is also true when moving around in Panama, whether as a single traveler, with or without children; you can be sure that people are always friendly and helpful. When our daughter was born in Panama, we were often approached by complete strangers on the street or in stores who congratulated us and wished us luck. One time my wife was stopped by the police asking for her driver’s license. At the end the official called over his other colleague just to have a look at the lovely baby on the back seat. And this actually happened more than once.
I will never forget when at the passport control at the airport in Tocumen, an immigration officer held up our family (and the whole line waiting). We were just coming back from a trip to Europe, and of course we were tired and exhausted. While being in line for passport control, suddenly the official in charge yelled “STOP! STOP! Stop, here!”. My wife and I looked at each other confused. What was wrong? Then the immigration official pointed to our daughter in her stroller. “Now look a this little princess! Everybody, look a the sweet little girl…”